Change of habit
HILO — Every year, like clockwork, the four county mayors join a procession of state agencies, the Judiciary and the University of Hawaii to make their funding requests at a joint session of the state House Finance Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee. But not this coming year.
The informational briefings that start Thursday and continue through Jan. 15 lack the traditional mayors’ unveiling of legislative wish lists before the money committees, according to the agenda posted on the Legislature’s website.
Legislative officials on both the House and Senate side say it’s not an oversight or any indication the neighbor islands will get less attention this year. Instead, they say, it’s been difficult to coordinate a time when all four mayors can attend.
With Honolulu Mayor-elect Kirk Caldwell not inaugurated until Wednesday, and the mayors expected to be out of state from Jan. 17 to 19 for the United States Conference of Mayors winter convention, the Legislature couldn’t find a convenient time.
“It’s not an omission,” said House Majority spokeswoman Georgette Deemer. “They’re still working on it.”
The Legislature convenes its regular session Jan. 16. But leadership changes in both houses indicate real work will probably commence a little later than usual this year.
House Speaker Calvin Say, who’s held the post 14 years, has said he won’t seek the speakership this session as shifting loyalties point to former Speaker Joe Souki gaining support to head the lower chamber. In the upper chamber, Senate President Shan Tsutsui is joining the administration as lieutenant governor, and Sen. Donna Kim on Friday was voted president. All are Democrats.
The Big Island is represented on the Senate Ways and Means Committee by two senators, and not represented at all on the House Finance Committee. Other Big Island Senate committee positions announced Friday include Sen. Gil Kahele as majority whip; Sen. Josh Green, Health Committee chairman; and Sen. Malama Solomon, Water and Land Committee chairwoman.
The session ends in early May, with the budget typically being one of the last bills to get passed.With the economy ticking up, there may be more money for the state to spend next year. The two legislative money committees will hear more details Friday when the state Council on Revenues and economists make their presentations.
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said he’s not concerned his voice won’t be heard.
“Just because we’re not on there yet, doesn’t mean we won’t have our chance,” Kenoi said. “We’re continuing to dialogue with the Legislature and we’ll get that chance to propose our wish list.”
Kenoi said his office has been concentrating on projects the state and county can work on together, such as a new building for the College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and improvements to Highway 130 linking Keaau to Pahoa.
“It’s time for some urgently needed traffic relief for the working people who are commuting each day on the Keaau-to-Pahoa Highway, and we want to assist the state in every way we can to make that happen,” Kenoi said.
He said construction should begin by mid-2013 on the first phase of the plan to convert the existing shoulder lanes on Highway 130 into permanent lanes, and he’s pitching to the Legislature a larger plan to expand more than nine miles of the highway to four lanes.
West Hawaii projects won’t get neglected, either, he said.
“We will be lobbying the state for assistance this year to extend the Ane Keohokalole Highway from Hina Lani to Kaiminani,” Kenoi said. “That would add another two and a half miles to the highway, and we will be aggressively looking for funding sources.”